By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Unmukt Chand and his boys are a step away from bagging the biggest prize there is for young and upcoming cricketers. Following in the footsteps of his fellow Delhi player Virat Kohli, Chand has led India into the final of the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2012 in Australia. While India’s senior players battle it out in a Test match at Hyderabad, India’s under-19 stars lock horns with their Australian counterparts for the trophy on Sunday. Indian fans have always taken keen interest in the development of their young players at the tournament – particularly since Mohammad Kaif and company lifted the trophy in the year 2000.
The India under-19 team has prepared extensively in the lead up to the big event. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should be given credit for giving them ample exposure and match practice. In October last year, the team played a tri-series at home and then a similar tournament in Australia. That trip would have done wonders to their confidence as they clinched the cup and got enough practice in Australian conditions – where the under-19 World Cup is being played. Not just that, they also featured in the Asia Cup – where they shared the trophy with Pakistan after a tied final. The amount of match-practice is evident and has helped build a good squad in the lead-up to the tournament that matters.
Although India have reached the final of the under-19 World Cup, it hasn’t been the easiest tournament for them. They lost the first game to West Indies and then made it through to the knock-outs after winning the remainder of their league games. The game against arch-rivals Pakistan was an absolute nerve-wracker. Chasing a paltry target of 137, India made heavy weather of it and only clinched it by one wicket.
If one goes through the record books, one would find that the India under-19 sides have choked against Pakistan at crucial intervals of the previous editions of the tournament. In 2004, an Indian side which had the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina and Robin Uthappa to name a few lost to Pakistan in the semi-final. Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma and Company failed to overhaul a small target of 110 in the final of the 2006 edition. An Ashok Menaria-led side couldn’t get past the arch-rivals in the quarter-final in 2010. The recent encounter may have been another one on the list, but the Indian tailenders held their nerve and saw it through.
India’s batsmen haven’t had a very good World Cup. None of them are amongst the top ten run-getters of the tournament. Also, they haven’t been able to put up big totals on the board. The usually prolific Chand has only one fifty to show in this tournament – which shows how tough the conditions have been on the batsmen. It would be a mistake to count him out though. In two previous tournament finals for India u-19, he has returned with three figures in each. Prashant Chopra has been the most consistent during the tournament with three fifties from five games.
The bowlers have done well though – they have kept it tight and created the pressure tremendously well. The seamers - Ravikant Singh, Sandeep Sharma and Kamal Passi - have been absolutely fantastic. They have been well supported by the spinners – Harmeet Singh and Baba Aparajith – who has put up a good all-round show.
Australia are playing in their own backyard, but India would take heart and inspiration from the previous encounters between the two sides. Earlier this year, when the two sides contested in a final of a quadrangular in Australia, India won the game at the back of Chand’s hundred. Also, when a similar quadrangular was played in India last year, the hosts beat Australia by comfortable margins on two occasions. However, a World Cup final is a different ball game. With Team India heading towards a likely win against New Zealand on Sunday, victory over Australia by the India under-19 team would truly make it a Super Sunday for Indian cricket.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44 )